EU slaps sanctions on relatives of Syria’s al-Assad over drugs

European Council says production and trafficking of amphetamine has become ‘a regime-led business model’ in Syria.

A Syrian soldier sits near posters depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, during the country's presidential elections at a checkpoint in Damascus, Syria.
A Syrian soldier sits near posters depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, at a checkpoint in Damascus, Syria, in 2021 [Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]

The European Union has imposed sanctions on relatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over their alleged involvement in drug production and trafficking.

The European Council said in a statement that the majority of the 25 individuals and eight entities in Syria who were subjected to sanctions on Monday were targeted due to involvement in the production and trafficking of drugs, particularly Captagon.

“The trade in amphetamine has become a regime-led business model, enriching the inner circle of the regime and providing it with revenue that contributes to its ability to maintain its policies of repression against the civilian population,” the Council said.

“For this reason the Council designated various members of the Assad family — including multiple cousins of Bashar al-Assad, leaders and members of regime-affiliated militias and businesspeople with close ties to the Assad family, as well as persons associated with the Syrian army and the Syrian military intelligence,” it added.

EU foreign ministers decided that two of al-Assad’s cousins — Wasim Badi al-Assad and Samer Kamal al-Assad — should be particularly highlighted for their role in the Captagon trade, the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported. A third cousin, Mudar Rifaat al-Assad, was sanctioned without more specific reasons being provided, DPA reported.

Captagon was the trade name of a drug initially patented in Germany in the early 1960s that contained an amphetamine-type stimulant. The drug was later banned and became an illicit substance almost exclusively produced and consumed in the Middle East and is close to what is known in other countries as “speed”. Syria is the Middle East’s main Captagon producer.

Last month, the US Treasury also imposed sanctions on the two cousins — Samer Kamal and Wassim Badi — over involvement in drug trafficking as well as providing support for the Syrian military.

Also subject to EU sanctions on Monday were private security companies operating in Syria, as well as individuals and entities linked to them, which the Council accused of acting as “shell companies for regime-affiliated militia”.

“Militias support the Syrian regime in its repressive policies, commit abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law on behalf of the Syrian regime,” the Council said.

A Russian construction company has also ended up on the EU sanctions list. Stroytransgaz had taken control of Syria’s largest phosphate mines and was thus a “beneficiary and supporter of the regime”, the Council said.

In total, 322 individuals are now subject to EU sanctions related to the situation in Syria and face asset freezes and travel bans. A further 81 entities have had their assets frozen. EU individuals and entities are also banned from making funds available to those sanctioned due to the Assad regime’s violent repression of Syria’s population, the Council said.

Al-Assad’s government has denied allegations of involvement in drugs, stating that it is cracking down on the distribution of Captagon.

The US and now EU sanctions come as al-Assad is slowly rebuilding ties with regional leaders after a period of isolation following his government’s brutal repression of an uprising that began in 2011 and expanded into a civil war.

Syria’s civil war broke out after the Assad regime cracked down brutally on peaceful antigovernment demonstrations in 2011, that then escalated into a deadly civil conflict that pulled in foreign powers and global armed groups.

More than half a million people have been killed, an estimated 6.7 million people have fled the country, and 14 million people require humanitarian assistance inside Syria as nearly 60 percent of the population faces food shortages, according to the World Food Programme.

Source: Al Jazeera, DPA